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Asthma Health Center

The Athlete's Guide to Exercise-Induced Asthma

Exercise-induced asthma shouldn't keep you from working out. Here's how to keep your symptoms under control.
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Preventing and Treating Exercise-Induced Asthma

How can these symptoms be prevented and treated, so asthma doesn't become an excuse to avoid exercise?

Here are some tips for reducing the symptoms of exercise-induced asthma:

  • Be sure to warm up before working out. "A proper warm-up for at least 10 minutes with a gradual increase in intensity can help prevent symptoms," says Miller.
  • Take precautions when it's chilly outside. "If it's cold, cover your mouth and nose to warm the air," says Miller. Or "move to indoor areas that are well-ventilated and have humidified, warm air."
  • Use an inhaler. Inhalers contain albuterol, a beta-agonist bronchodilator. This class of drugs is effective in 80% to 90% of people with exercise-induced asthma. As a preventive therapy, it should be taken about 15 minutes before exercise. The effects can last for up to four to six hours. Your inhaler can also be used to relieve asthma symptoms after they flare.

If warming up and using albuterol don't prevent symptoms, there may be more to your exercise-induced asthma than you think.

Is it Exercise-Induced Asthma?

Are you really experiencing exercise-induced asthma, or is it chronic asthma in disguise?

"It depends, and that's one of the difficulties," says Craig. "Does a person truly have exercise-induced asthma, or is their asthma unstable and just manifesting with exercise?"

It might be chronic asthma if your asthma symptoms continue to flare after taking albuterol, or if they are triggered by things like cigarette smoke and pet dander.

"If the effects of albuterol only last for a short while, you may have underlying significant inflammation and not realize it," says Craig. "That means you have poorly controlled asthma, and you need to be seen by a physician and possibly be on an anti-inflammatory agent on a regular basis."

Sports for Avoiding Exercise-Induced Asthma

When it comes to exercise-induced asthma, warmer is better.
"It seems to be associated with mainly people who are, for instance, skaters in cold, dry areas, or skiers doing really excessive exercise in a cold and dry environment," says Craig. "The cold and dry air is one of the greatest stimuli for inducing bronchospasm."

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